Northbound Alaska Cruise on the Island Princess and Cruisetour
6/4/14 to 6/18/14
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1 - Embarkation; Ship; Cabin; Dining; Entertainment
Page 2 - Activities; Ports of Call: Ketchikan, AK; Juneau, AK; Skagway, AK; Glacier Bay, AK
Page 3 - Ports of Call: College Fjord, AK; Whittier, AK; Land Stops: Kenai, AK; Mount McKinley, AK
Page 4 - Land Stops: Denali, AK; Fairbanks, AK
Cruise Critic Meet and Greet (www.cruisecritic.com) – On the first sea day, the second day of the cruise, we had set up a Meet and Greet for the people that had been on our Cruise Critic roll call. We had been chatting on the forum for many months before the cruise and it was nice to meet everyone. We didn’t have a lot of people on the roll call, so I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone came. We had 18 attendees. With it being a small group, we only had a couple of representatives from the activities staff attend our gathering. We did appreciate their coming. It is nice to have the Captain or Cruise Director attend, as we normally have with larger groups; but I will have to say that I think we had more conversations going on because it was just us and so informal.
Naturalist – Jules Talarico had several interesting presentations during the cruise. I attended most of them and thoroughly enjoyed his message. He also was very helpful during the day on the outer decks pointing out things to the passengers. He really loves what he does and it shows.
Iditarod Winner – The afternoon we were in Juneau, the first woman to win the Iditarod, Libby Riddles, had a presentation in the theater. She told us about the difficulty of the 1,000 mile Iditarod race and about raising sled dogs. She also showed an interesting video that told about dog sled racing and clips from when she won the race. It was most enjoyable.
Culinary Show – On the last day of the cruise, there was a culinary demonstration. It was put on by the Executive Chef and the Maître d. The chef was doing a very good job; but the Maître d kept interrupting him trying to be funny with stupid jokes and constantly adding wine to whatever the chef was making. When he wasn’t adding wine, he played like he was drinking it; as though by being a lush, he was funny. The most offensive part to me was that he kept making ethnic slurs about the chef’s Italian heritage. It was a real turn off and made me rather uncomfortable. A person in a Maître d’s roll should maintain a professional image. He can be funny; but not act stupid, foolish and prejudiced.
After the presentation was over, everyone was invited to a tour of the galley. It looked like all the other ship galleys we have seen – lots of stainless steel. When the galley tour ended, Princess cookbooks were available to purchase.
Ports of Call
The seven day cruise only had three port days. Two of the non-port days would be cruising Glacier Bay and College Fjord. But the first sea day was pretty boring, as far as scenery is concerned, since we didn’t go through the inside passage. I did hang out on deck regularly to look for sea life and did spot a couple of humpback whales; but they were too far away to get decent photos. The highlight was the 10:00 PM sunset. It would be the only one we would see for the rest of the trip, since sunset was around midnight or after much of the trip.
As we came into Ketchikan, it looked like we might have some good weather. This was the only port that we really needed to have the best weather possible, since we were flying into Misty Fjords National Monument. Misty Fjords actually covers more area than Yellowstone National Park and none of it is accessible by land. So in order to visit, you either need to take a boat of fly into it. We decided to fly with Michelle of Island Wings (www.islandwings.com), who we had flown with when we visited Ketchikan in 2007.
We had booked an 8:00 AM tour, since we would only be in Ketchikan until 2:00 PM. I had originally been concerned about flying too early, since the morning fog could be an issue. Michelle let me know that with the sun rising at 4:00 AM, it would be like flying in mid-day. We arrived at the famous Ketchikan Rain Gauge meeting place a half hour early. The van was waiting close by; but no one was there yet.
We had not previously seen The Rock statue that was dedicated in 2010. It was quite a nice addition to the waterfront.
The downtown area pretty much looked the same as before, with lots of shops. Of course the famous sign proclaiming Ketchikan as Alaska’s First City, since it is where most cruise ships stop first, is still well maintained.
We did get a kick out of the no smoking sign. Especially since I really wanted to be able to see Puffins on this trip.
Before long two other couples showed up at the van. Mike and Sue were from Ohio, and Dave and Valarie were from Ontario. We introduced ourselves and talked about the day’s upcoming adventure. Since we had flown with Michelle before, they were anxious to hear about our previous experience. Before we got to say too much our driver showed up early, too. We piled into the van and headed for plane dock. Michelle’s Lady Esther was sitting on the dock waiting to be launched.
After everyone paid the balance of the fee owed in the office, we walked back outside in time to see Michelle push her plane into the water.
Michelle asked me if I wanted to ride co-pilot. Since I hadn’t on our first trip, I thought it would be a fun experience; which it was. However, the curved windows and reflection in front made it difficult to get many shots without glare on them.
She did tell everyone that the best seat was at the very back, where the passenger could take photos out of both sides. She was correct. Dave got the best seat on both legs of the flight.
As we took off, we were so grateful that we had been blessed with a sunny day. Sometimes the flights have to be cancelled due to weather; or it can be foggy or rainy, which would really take away from the experience. This was a glorious day and we were seeing Misty Fjords as we hoped we would. We passed over many beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous vistas.
At times it seemed like we were so close to the mountains; but I knew that it only seemed that way to us, not Michelle. We also passed over a frozen lake that hadn't thawed yet for the summer.
The snow covered mountains and lush green fjords were just breathtaking. The first leg would take almost an hour as Michelle showed off Misty Fjords to us. She told us all about the area through our headsets and we could ask her questions too. It was a very pleasant smooth flight.
One of the benefits of using Island Wings is that Michelle has a permit to land in a fjord and have her passengers disembark onto land. Most of the flight companies don’t pay for that right; so as a result they can only land on the fjord. The passengers can step out onto the pontoons for a few minutes; but that is it. They can’t go onto the land. Michelle took us to a drop dead gorgeous location, Nooya Lake. She put out some stools for us to step from the plane to the ground on. She made it easy for us.
It was so nice to be able to get out of the plane and walk around in this pristine area. Our main activity, other than oohing and aahing was to take numerous photos of each other and the area. The sun had brought the temperature up to 63 degrees, which was just perfect.
Mike and Sue, and Dave and Valerie posed for their solo shots and Michelle took photos of all of us together. We had a very friendly group which made the trip even more enjoyable. I also was able to get a nice photo of Michelle.
After spending about a half hour in the fjord, we boarded the plane for our return flight. We all swapped around seats, and Mike asked if he could fly as copilot. I told him he could have it. It is a better seat for everything except taking photos. On the way back we passed by the New Eddystone Rock; which we had passed on the first leg, but I hadn't been able to get a good photo of it. It is a small island that was created from a volcanic vent. It does stand out when flying over it.
With the flight back only taking a half hour we took a more direct route back to Ketchikan. We still saw some beautiful views.
Before landing we got to get a nice shot of the ships docked in Ketchikan.
After the tour, we walked back into town by way of many stores. Carol found a couple of new friends at one of them.
Since we didn’t have a lot of time before we would need to think about getting back on the ship, we decided to take a leisurely stroll to the Creek Street area. We had been there before; but it is a nice tourist attraction. On the way there we saw a very tall totem pole and some lovely flowers.
The Creek Street area was the red light district before it was cleaned up. Now it is a main area to find local crafts and souvenirs. There are many unique stores there, unlike the jewelry stores in the main part of town that are in most cruise ship ports throughout the Caribbean.
On the back side of the main stores are many more stores. This is a shopper's paradise.
One place I hadn’t previously seen was the Creek Street Salmon Ladder. It was a short walk from the main stores. On the way there, I passed by the Yeltatzie Salmon statue. It is named after the Indian sculptor who created it.
It was a longer walk than I thought it would be, since I had to go over the creek bridge to get to the other side of the creek to see it; plus it was uphill. Well, it wasn’t much to look at. But it was crossed off my list of Ketchikan sites to visit. At least I saw some more pretty flowers on the walk to the ladder.
After I joined back up with Carol on Creek Street, we headed back to the ship. We had noticed the free downtown shuttle bus and info earlier in the morning. Since the Island Princess was the furthest ship from town, we thought we would try it out. We had to wait a while for it to arrive; but it finally came and took us to our destination. It is a very nice service that the city provides.
When we got back to the ship, we couldn't believe how long the line was. In the below photo, you can see all the people on the ramp; but there was also a double line of people in the covered building next to the ramp.
As we left the dock, we had a nice view of the city, along with a large souvenir shop with their wares on display, where Carol had sat with her bear friends.
Since it was just 2:00 PM, I went up to deck 15 to watch our sailway and possibly see some wildlife. In talking with another fellow who was up there, he was telling me about his visit to Totem Bight Park. He said that we would probably be passing it on the way to Juneau. We kept watching for it; but it turned out to be over an hour away. Since I waited so long, I have to put a photo of it here.
The first time we were in Juneau we had a great whale watching experience. It was on a small boat with just six passengers. Since we were now seven years older, we thought it would be nice to try a little larger boat; but not too large like the cruise lines use, which have hundreds of people on a single boat. We had seen many positive comments about Captain Larry and Orca Enterprises (www.orcaenterprises.com). He has a modern jet boat that can hold as many as 60 people; but they only book around 25 people per tour to keep it at a comfortable occupancy. It was also handicap accessible, which was desirable for some of the guests. We had booked the 10:30 AM tour, so I had time to go into town earlier to take some photos and verify where the office/meeting place was.
It was very easy to find, since the office is in the building with a clock tower and right across from the Mt. Roberts Tram. There was a downstairs office; but the main ticketing and store were on the second floor, which was easily accessed by stairs or an elevator. I was able to check in, pay for the tour and walk around town with plenty of time to spare. The only down side was that it was raining. I could deal with whale watching in the rain much more than flying in the rain, so we would just go with the flow.
Juneau is a small town with all the normal port jewelry stores, but they do a very nice job of decorating the town with flowers. It makes for a nice walk.
I wanted to go to the Red Dog Saloon before the crowds got there, since last time I was there it was packed. My timing was very good. The place was almost empty. It hadn’t changed a bit.
During a port talk, I had heard about a statue to a bull terrier named Patsy Ann. Back in the 1930’s, she apparently would come down to the waterfront just before a ship would come in. Since boats weren’t as regular an occurrence back then, Patsy Ann could tell when a ship was coming in and at which dock it would stop. Quite a feat, especially since Patsy Ann was deaf. She was dubbed the “Official Greeter of Juneau Alaska” by the mayor in 1934. The statue was dedicated in 1992, 50 years after her death. It is kind of a cute tourist attraction along the waterfront.
I went back to the Island Princess to get Carol for the tour. We weren’t in the best docking location; but it wasn’t a bad walk. We still had some shopping time. The area had some very nice stores. At the assigned time, a bus took us to the docks for the tour. We arrived just in time to see the purple Orca Odysea just arriving back from its morning tour. It was a nice size boat.
We got to meet Captain Larry as we were walking up to the boat. I was surprised to find out later during the tour that we were the same age. The other main crew members were Josh and Kelly. They provided us with lots of info and gave us free drinks and snacks. They also would direct us to look where the wildlife was located. They would be very busy on this trip.
As advertised, the boat was very comfortable with more than enough room to spread out. There was a table between each section of bench seats. With only 22 passengers, some people were even taking naps on benches later during the trip. There was a large viewing area on the back of the boat, plus twelve people could go up the ladder to the top of the boat. Both areas were great for viewing humpback whales and orcas. Since I was using a telephoto lens, I didn’t take any photos of these areas. I should have switched lens to show what a nice boat it was.
With it being a jet boat, it had a very smooth ride and was quite fast. I was impressed. When Captain Larry wanted to go somewhere, it didn’t take long to get there. He had seen some orcas on the earlier tour and wanted to go back to the area to see if they were still there. It wasn’t long before there were orcas all around the boat. They would come up to the boat and actually look at us as they rolled over. They would go under the boat and then speed right past it. They just kept playing with us over and over again. It was an amazing experience. I should have been using a different lens, since I couldn’t focus in when the orcas were so close to us; but we didn’t expect them to hang around that much.
I wasn’t able to get too many useable photos; but we did get lots of memories. Fortunately, Josh was able to get a video of some of the action on his phone which he posted on YouTube. He gave me permission to link to the video.
You will want to turn the volume down, since Kelly gets quite excited about the activity. Both Josh and Kelly were calling to the orcas to come back; which they kept doing. The interaction of the whales with the boat was amazing. Because of how the videos were posted, other videos from other days that Josh posted will follow.
Captain Larry got quite emotional about the whole experience. Kelly said that he told her that he hadn’t seen anything like this with orcas since he was a teenager. After we had our fill of orcas, Captain Larry turned the boat around to look for some humpback whales. On the way there we passed by a buoy loaded down with a bunch of seals and topped off with a bald eagle. There was a line of seals waiting for someone to leave the buoy, so they could take their place.
Not far away we came across some resting humpbacks. There were several whale watching boats observing them. The whales were mostly just chilling out. There was a lot of blowhole activity. We got a new appreciation for the term “fish breath”. They eventually decided it was time go back into the depths and get away from the pesky boats.
When whale watching in Juneau, you normally get a nice view of the Mendenhall Glacier when returning to the docks. We also got to see a group of bald eagles enjoying lunch on a beach.
Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed our Orca Enterprises whale watching trip. It was special indeed. After being returned to town, we did some more shopping and then went back to the ship. We had enjoyed a full day and were ready to relax.
Since we had not previously visited Skagway, we were really looking forward to our first visit. Once again, the forecast was not too great and it was not looking too good when peaking outside. The area was quite pretty; but for some reason there was way too much graffiti on the stone cliffs next to the ship. Much of it appeared to be advertising done by the cruise ship companies, which didn’t make much sense to us.
From the ship, I could see downtown Skagaway. It didn’t look too far away, so I decided to check it out, since we might not be able to spend much time after our day’s tour.
Once again we were having some light rain to start the day. A lot of folks were lined up outside the ship to board the White Pass Railway. This would take them up into the Yukon. I was able to get on the train before everyone else got there to get some photos of the interior.
I then continued the nice walk into Skagway. It was much closer than it appeared. It was such a cute little city, and I pretty much had it to myself. It looked like what I would picture an old Alaskan town. It actually looked like something from and old western TV show.
Close to town was the Skagway Centennial Statue that was erected in 1997, 100 years after Skagway’s founding.
Close to the statue is a large rail snow plow. The ten foot blades cut a large path through the snow so that the other trains could travel the White Pass route.
I went back into town to continue to explore. I came across the Mascot Saloon Museum. It is also where the public restrooms are located. It is quite an interesting recreation with life-size mannequins and stuffed animals. In the back of the building there were other displays regarding the history of the city; but the front saloon area held the biggest attraction for me. It was well worth visiting. I was really enjoying Skagway, plus the sun had come out.
Across the street was the Golden North Hotel. It isn’t a hotel anymore; but it was the location of Frontier Excursions (www.frontierexcursions.com), who we had chosen for an excursion into the Yukon. The inside of the building was really like going back in time. Quite a beautiful building.
When I went back to the counter I was able to meet the co-owner of the excursion company, Cris, and our guide for the day, Heidi. They were a pleasure to visit with and I was looking forward to the day’s tour.
I had chosen Frontier because they went to the Yukon in a van rather than on the train. I am sure that the train is a great trip; but I wanted to be able to stop periodically and get photos as well as to really feel the nature without a window. This trip also would stop at Emerald Lake, where the train didn’t go to.
A few doors down from the hotel was Camp 1 of the Arctic Brotherhood building. The secret society built the structure in 1899. It is now used as the Visitor Information Center. The attendant there chatted with me for quite a while giving me lots of history of the area along with some interesting stories about Skagway. He also gave me maps and recommendations of what to do if I had time after our tour.
I wish that Carol had been able to come with me in the morning, since the town was just fascinating and a pleasure to explore. She would have really liked it. We hoped that we would have time later. When I got closer to the ship, I was able to get some nice photos of it; plus I was able to walk out onto an area that allowed me to get a great profile shot of the ship that I used on the first page of the review. I had been worried that I would have to settle for an obstructed view, since there wasn’t a clean shot available in the other ports.
When I got back to the cabin, we had already received our luggage tags to use for our land tour. Princess is very good in making sure that luggage gets to where it is going while on a land tour. Since we were only allowed to bring one suitcase each to the lodges, we had two “Join me tonight” tags that would go to our first lodge and we had “Join me in Fairbanks” tags for the other suitcases that we wouldn’t have access to until our last stay in Fairbanks.
We left the ship and met Heidi just outside the terminal area to get on the large van. It was a very nice van with plenty of leg room. The van held 25 people and our tour had 22. Even though it was almost full, it was very comfortable and the sound system worked great.
We took a short ride through the city and then headed north to Canada. The countryside was quite pretty with lots of mountains. We stopped at a waterfall, where Heidi told us we could fill up our water bottles with the clean mountain water. Everyone tried out the water and thought it was quite good.
The further north we went the scenery kept changing. We were climbing in altitude and the plant life was getting smaller and the temperature was getting colder. Heidi kept telling us about what we were seeing as she continued the drive. She stopped near the highest point on the road so we could get out and see and feel the difference. It was cold and the wind made it feel even colder; but it was a pretty place. We were also close to the Canadian border and could see the large snow covered mountains. It was also a welcome sight to see some blue sky.
Once we crossed into Canada, we had to stop for border clearance. A border guard came on board and everyone held up their passports for her to see. It was very quick and easy. The further into Canada we got, the prettier the scenery. Heidi stopped at a lake for us to get out, stretch and take photos. It was quite a nice stop.
Further up the road, we stopped to get photos of the Yukon sign as we entered the Territory before continuing past more beautiful scenry.
Heidi had been telling us about her life in the wilderness and how she and her husband raised and raced dogs. She was very passionate about it and she looked forward to our meeting her dogs when we got to Caribou Crossing, where we were going to have lunch. In fact she has since signed up for the Iditarod race in March 2015. Living in the Yukon most of her life, she didn’t have many modern conveniences. They hunt for their food, and she told us that they haven’t had store bought meat in 30 years. They also hadn’t had electricity until two years ago. The stories were fascinating; but it was not a life style that interested us senior citizens.
Finally around 1:00 PM we came to Caribou Crossing. We were ready for lunch, which was included in the price of the tour. We had barbecued chicken, coleslaw and a potato. For dessert there were donuts. The meal was pretty good, especially because we were so hungry.
Caribou Crossing was an assortment of structures made to look like an old Alaskan town.
They had a wildlife museum that Heidi said we should definitely go see. Since everything was included with our tour package, we figured it was worth a shot. The front part of the museum wasn’t much, but when we got back to the large main room, I was shocked at how many stuffed and recreated animals they had. It really was quite impressive.
As part of the tour, we could also pay an additional amount for a dog sled ride. Heidi’s husband ran this operation. A few people took the ride, which was on a wheeled vehicle. Heidi told us about the dogs and we got to see how excited all the dogs got when it was riding time. They all wanted to pull the sled. We would see this behavior many times over the rest of the vacation.
There were many types of live animals to pet and/or look at around the facility. Carol’s favorite was a new sled puppy that she didn’t want to let go of.
When it was time to meet at the van to leave, Heidi and about half the people were nowhere to be found. I finally found them in an area where Heidi was showing part of the group about the dog sleds. She finished and then tried to rustle up the rest of the group to continue on. Our furthest destination was Emerald Lake. I was really looking forward to seeing it, since the photos I had seen had whetted my appetite. Since the sun was shining and the weather had warmed considerably, it should be a great day for the lake to show its color.
When we stopped for Emerald Lake, everyone was anxious to get out of the van to get photos of the gorgeous lake. It was well worth the trip to see it. It had a very unique look.
The view back south was also pretty with snowcapped mountains in the distance.
Before heading back to Skagway, we passed by the Carcross Desert, which is the smallest desert in the world. It is only one square mile in size. Since we had taken too much time in Caribou Crossing, we didn’t have time to stop there; but did take a drive through the rather uninteresting town of Carcross.
The drive back was even prettier than the drive up, since the weather was better. The scenery was just gorgeous. I took so many photos; but I am only putting a few in, since I don’t want to overdo it and they just can’t compare to the beauty we saw. It was certainly the one of the prettiest drives we have ever been on.
Heidi had told us about the road markers that were used to let people know where the road is when it is covered with snow. The angled poles are the only way to keep on the road when the conditions are bad.
Since we didn’t get back to town until 5:00 PM, we didn’t have any time to check out the city like we had hoped to. We had booked early seating dinner for the cruise; but the seating was at 5:15 PM, which was too early. It also got in the way of too many things we would have liked to do. In the future, I will recommend that people book open seating for an Alaskan cruise. A set schedule doesn’t work well there, especially with an early seating.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Skagway and the Yukon tour. If we do another Alaska cruise, I will make certain that Skagway is on the itinerary.
Glacier Bay, Alaska
A main reason we took this particular cruise was to be able to see Glacier Bay National Park. It was supposed to be quite beautiful. We had received bad weather forecasts for almost every day of the cruise; but most days turned out to be very nice. Our day in Glacier Bay wasn’t turning out so good. It was cold, cloudy and hazy. Not the best glacier viewing conditions. The park rangers boarded at 7:00 AM, a half hour after I had already been on deck to get a preview of the coming attractions. The scenery was nice; but a bit of sunshine would have made it a lot prettier. There was some on one of the mountains in the distance; but it didn’t last long.
We had been cruising in the bay for an hour and fifteen minutes and getting close to the end of it. Since we were in Glacier Bay, which has 15 tidewater glaciers, I had expected to see something before now. We saw some ice from a calving glacier which meant we were getting close. Shortly thereafter we saw the source of the ice that I believe was the Reid Glacier. It was quite a large one and had one area that was very blue due to a recent calving. With a boat passing close to the front of the glacier, it gave perspective to how tall the glacier really was. In the last photo, it can barely be seen just below and to the right of the bright blue area.
Further into the bay a mountain was being highlighted by some sunlight. It really brought out the beauty.
A little further along, we saw a preview of the Lamplugh Glacier. We didn’t stop there, since we would on the way back out later.
I was really intrigued by the glacial blue color of the water in the bay. It was so pretty. We would see much more of it during our land tour.
All the cameras were aimed at a bald eagle who was sitting on a large piece of ice. He posed for everyone and stayed on the ice for quite a while.
The ice fields were getting thicker as we approached the Marjorie Glacier. It was interesting to be able to look into the water to see how much of the ice was below the water level.
All morning I had been moving all around the ship from the top decks, front decks, promenade decks and our cabin balcony to see as much as I could. With our balcony on the port side, I could have stayed on our balcony the whole time and seen everything worth seeing. Of course, I would have been a nervous wreck worried about what I was missing on the other side of the ship. As we were getting in position for the Marjorie Glacier, there were a lot of sea gulls flying around our balcony. We didn’t know what was causing it. Finally we looked up and saw where one of the passengers was feeding the seagulls food in her hands from her balcony. Even with all the warnings not to feed the wildlife, some people just don’t want to follow the rules. Please note that it is against the law to do so, and you can be fined if caught.
The Marjorie Glacier was certainly the prettiest glacier in the park. It was also the most active. There were occasional small calvings; but nothing to the extent we had previously experienced at Hubbard Glacier in 2007. Whereas Marjorie is one mile across, Hubbard is seven miles. Plus we were at Hubbard in August when there was more melting going on which resulted in much more calving. But don’t get me wrong, Marjorie is a very beautiful glacier and we thoroughly enjoyed looking at it. We stayed near the glacier for almost 90 minutes. The captain turned the boat around so that both sides would get to enjoy the view from their balconies.
Glaciers are such a treat to just stand and look at. It is hard to imagine something so large is a moving object. I was thrilled when the sun came out for a short period to light up the glacier. I took advantage of it to take the below panorama shot. As we had been told the blue of the glacier is better when the sun is not shining directly on it, so I put one of the main section of the glacier here also.
After leaving the Marjorie Glacier, we headed back to the Lamplugh Glacier. We cruised down the bay through the eerie atmosphere caused by the low hanging clouds. It was a lovely place.
We pulled up in front of the Lamplugh Glacier for a bit, but it wasn’t much compared to the Marjorie. I actually was more interested in the Topeka Glacier up in the mountains across from the Lamplugh.
As we backed away, I took a panorama photo of both glaciers and the beautiful setting they were in.
I was surprised how few of the glaciers we were able to see. In looking at the provided map, it appeared that most of the glaciers were on some of the narrower legs of the bay that we wouldn’t have been able to navigate. I had been expecting to see lots of glaciers, but instead saw a few nice ones and some beautiful scenery. The cruise out of the bay was quite peaceful and pretty, since the clouds had lifted up higher so we could see some of the mountains.
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